it’s a small world, and the world’s a stage

Here’s one of the strangest coincidences I’ve been involved with in a while.

As you know, I’m in rehearsals for “The Foreigner,” which opens Friday at The Fly Arts Center in Shelbyville. For more information, go here.

“The Foreigner” is being directed by Tony Davis, who normally heads up the outstanding drama program, Smokestack Theatre, at Community High School. I occasionally talked to Tony in the past about getting one of Community’s plays into the newspaper, but I can’t say that I knew him, and I’d never worked with him on a play before.

I certainly didn’t know that he has an identical twin brother. At today’s rehearsal, the first time we’ve gone through the full play, start to finish, we had a special guest in the seats: Tony’s twin brother, whom he introduced as Jerry Davis.

Tony and his brother share a love of the theater. In fact, Jerome Davis is founding artistic director of Burning Coal Theater in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I, too, have a brother who shares my love of the theater. My brother Michael and his wife, Kelly, live in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where Mike has appeared in plays at the Gilbert Theater and with Sweet Tea Shakespeare.

However, his most recent project was an hour’s drive away from Fayetteville … he was one of a number of actors, from a number of North Carolina theater groups, who participated in a Shakespeare festival organized by … wait for it … the Burning Coal Theater in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Isn’t that cool?

wanderlust

Without getting too much into personal matters, I’m looking forward over the next few months to completing some changes to my financial situation that I’ve been working on for several years, and – eventually – getting some reliable transportation. The first thing is only a couple of months away, but then it will take months of scrimping and saving before I can follow it with the second thing. It’s encouragingly close, but frustratingly far. I want it to be over right now.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming about a particular make and model of car. I printed a photo out on photo paper. I’ve been surfing the company’s website, and a nearby dealer’s website, and I was thrilled to see the car – in my preferred color! – drive through the McDonald’s parking lot the other day. I wanted to flag it down and ask the driver how she liked it.

This week, PBS has been re-running “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” Ken Burns’ outstanding documentary series. In some ways, I think it may be my favorite thing he’s done except for “The Civil War,” and in some cases “The National Parks” is even more relevant and has even more to say.

But what it’s instilled in me on my repeat viewing this week is a yearning to hit the road. Last night’s episode, especially, was about the dawn of the age when many people had cars and could drive themselves to one National Park – or even make a challenge of visiting multiple parks. When I have a car I can trust, I want to get in it and drive somewhere. Not necessarily a national park – although there are certainly some I’d like to see – but just somewhere.

a confession

Most of the cast of “The Foreigner” worked on the set today, but I begged off. I feel guilty about this. I think people probably assumed I had a specific conflict, but the fact of the matter was that I just have a crazy weekend, and sometimes I’m sort of self-conscious about being old and out of shape.

In my defense, I did work on my lines today. I have worked on my lines five different times today, spending 25 minutes or so each time. I would start by reading through — once — the parts of the play for which I’m already off-book, then I would read the parts I’m still trying to memorize three times. I’m still not quite comfortable with a couple of things from the part I’ll need to have memorized by Tuesday night. My earlier scenes were mostly dialogues between my character and one other character. This scene is a big group scene, where I’ll go for a page or two without any lines at all, and so I’ve got to make sure I’m listening for my cue lines. And I have one big emotional monologue just before leaving the stage, and it has three parts to it — one to Charlie, one to the group, and one to David. I like the monologue, because I think it shows a little of where my character’s negativity comes from, but I am still trying to nail memorizing it so that I can do justice to it when I speak it.

Another reason I wanted to protect today is that tomorrow is going to be a little crazy. I will start it teaching my normal Sunday School class and going to church. Then, I will go to my father’s house for lunch to celebrate my nephew James’s birthday. The rest of the family will then proceed to Cascade, where James’s brother T.J. is in a production of “Seussical Jr.,” but I won’t be joining them  — because I’ll be at rehearsal tomorrow afternoon. Then, after rehearsal, I’m up in the rotation this week to be one of the adults at youth at church tomorrow evening. This will be the busiest Sunday I’ve had in quite a while.

At the end of my power cord

For the most part, I’ve been quite happy with the Internet part of my Charter Communications bundle. The speed is much faster and the service is usually much more reliable than my old AT&T DSL, and I generally laugh when I get mailings from AT&T imploring me to come back and pay almost exactly what I’m paying Charter for 1/10 the speed.

Every utility service has occasional problems and outages, though, and the past couple of weeks my Charter Internet service would drop periodically. It got worse over the weekend, to where when the Internet was up it was only a tiny fraction of the normal speed, and it was dropping more and more frequently. At the time I called Charter tech support Saturday, it was down altogether.

The Charter representative scheduled a service visit for Tuesday but said that I might want to try dropping by my nearest Charter office on Monday and swapping out my modem. If that worked, I could then cancel the service appointment and not have to miss any work.

On Sunday, things seemed to be running better for a while. I had wishful thinking and hoped that maybe there was a neighborhood outage and that someone else’s service call, or some tweaking at a network operations center somewhere, had fixed my problem. When Charter called and texted me (simultaneously!) to confirm the Tuesday appointment, I decided to go ahead and cancel it and see what happened.

What happened was that things got slow again.

So, today, I went straight from work to Tullahoma — 20 miles down the road, and that’s not counting the rush-hour drive through downtown Tullahoma to get to the other side. I finally found the Charter office (I had confused Industrial Boulevard with Mitchell Avenue), and went in. The woman at the counter happily took my information. I handed her my modem and power cord. She took them into the next room. Then, she came back, and from a cabinet behind her she grabbed a modem, a power cord, and an Ethernet cable.

The modem was shrink-wrapped rather than in a box, which was — all things considered — a good thing. I noticed that there was an Ethernet port but nowhere to plug in a phone. I pointed this out. She then realized that all they had in their cabinet was Internet-only modems, not Internet-and-phone modems. She said she would have to schedule a truck to drop a modem by my address. This would not be a service appointment; I wouldn’t have to be home, they would just drop it off. But even so, it had to be scheduled, and the soonest it could be dropped off would be Wednesday.

Since my old modem might not even be the problem, and since my setup as-is was at least partially functional, she gave me back my old modem. I asked about the power cord, and she told me that the new Cisco power cord she’d already pulled out of the cabinet would fit the old Cisco modem. In fact, I’d seen a case online where a bad power supply was actually the source of someone’s Internet problems. The woman at the counter said that, who knows, maybe the new power supply or the new Ethernet cable would end up solving my problem.

So I drove home from Tullahoma — round trip about 90 minutes, with no other stops. I got ready to put everything back together. My old modem power cord had a small plug, with a box-like power supply further down the cable. The new power cord had an oversized plug with the power supply built into the plug — which meant it would take up more than one space on my surge protector. I did some juggling; I ended up having to plug something, I think my printer, directly into the wall instead of the surge protector.

Then, with everything else hooked up, I went to plug the power cord into the back of my old modem.

Remember when the lady at the counter told me that the new power cord would fit my old modem, since they were both Cisco?

Guess again. The new cord has a larger-diameter round connector than the old cord.

So now, I can’t even use the old modem until the new one is dropped off on Wednesday. I am writing this blog post using my laptop tethered to my AT&T cell phone. It works, but I can’t go crazy or I’ll go over the data limits for my cell phone plan this month.

Here’s hoping the new Internet-and-phone modem can use the new power cord, or that the Charter truck drops off a power cord to go with it.

is my neck red enough?

Well, I have the part of Owen Musser in “The Foreigner,” which will be presented May 6-7 and 13-15 at The Fly Arts Center in Shelbyville. We had auditions tonight and will start rehearsals tomorrow.

I was not too familiar with the play, and put down on my registration sheet that I’d take any role offered. I’ve been fortunate enough to have big parts in my last few plays; that’s fun, but it can also be fun to have a smaller part and not feel like the whole production is on your shoulders. We did not get to bring playbooks home with us tonight, so I can’t say exactly how large Owen’s part is – it’s certainly smaller than Walter Hollander, and that’s perfectly OK with me.

It will be a challenge, though. Like one of my other recent roles, Orville in “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?”, Owen is not very likable. Without giving too much away (and most of what I know, I’ve been told, since I only read a few of Owen’s lines tonight), Owen is an antagonist, and kind of a redneck. Orville was a jerk, but his actions had consequences and he got a little bit of redemption (just a little) at the end of the play. I do not believe Owen is as fortunate – if anything, Owen turns out to be even worse than you think he is when you first meet him. There’s some fun and catharsis in being the bad guy, but I can’t say that it’s my normal preference.

In “Daddy’s Dyin’,” I was playing a man who was verbally abusive to, and who at one point threatens physical abuse against, his wife. I tried to play the part honestly, but it was a challenge – and, boy, was it awkward on the night when my “wife”s family was in the audience and in the reception line after the play.

I hope I’m up to being a bad guy again.

One difference between Orville and Owen has to do with profanity. Although we cleaned up some of the worst profanity in “Daddy’s Dyin,’” most of Orville’s curse words were delivered as written – which was reflective of his character. There are only a few mild curse words in “The Foreigner,” and we won’t be using even those, because our director – who normally works with high school students – has a strict no-profanity policy.

Our director is Tony Davis, which will be interesting for him and for us. Tony normally directs students at Community High School, which has the most ambitious and high-profile drama program of any of the county’s three public high schools. The way he conducted auditions tonight was quite different from most of the community theater auditions I’ve been through, and I suspect it’s like what he does with his students. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to learn from him, and it may be a different atmosphere than I’m used to.

The play as a whole is said to be very funny, and the sections I heard during audtions tonight seem to bear that out. I’m sure it would be well worth your time to come and see us in May.

relay update

relay-logoWell, it’s been an American Cancer Society Relay For Life kind of week.

Monday night, I helped set up for our annual Celebrity Waiter Luncheon, which I attended on Tuesday. This morning, I went to Shelbyville Rotary Club to cover a presentation (which I was responsible for setting up) by our American Cancer Society community manager, Samantha Chamblee.

On Sunday, one of my fellow members at First United Methodist will be making a pitch for the congregation to restart a Relay team after being idle for a few years.

I first got involved in Relay in 2011, the year after losing my mother, Carrie Carney, to pancreatic cancer. In 2012, I joined the local Relay organizing committee (now called the event leadership team; ACS seems to love changing its jargon every few years). Last year, I won the Martha Deason Award as Bedford County’s Relay volunteer of the year:

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No that’s not a trick of the lighting. My hair is purple, thanks to one of our Relay teams that night, which was offering temporary hair color.

Relay, and ACS, have become passions for me.

After an incredibly successful local event in 2014, our numbers have been down a little bit, and we were agonizing over that at the last committee meeting a few weeks ago. Part of it is just the normal cyclical nature of things. But some people have complained about the fact that the money they give to ACS goes out of town.

Yes, it does. But the impact of that money is felt in Bedford County every single day.

ACS does provide patient services, such as a 24-hour information and referral line, transportation to cancer treatments, and a network of Hope Lodge facilities that provide lodging for people undergoing cancer treatments more than 50 miles away from home.

But obviously, the biggest part of what ACS does is research. Specifically, $3.9 billion in cancer research since 1946, including work by 47 Nobel Prize winners. There’s not been some magic silver-bullet cure for cancer, and that distracts people from what actually has been accomplished. Many individual cancers that used to be untreatable are now treatable. Detection of cancer is better. Prevention of cancer is better. ACS’s sister organization, the Cancer Action Network, has advocated for laws relating to issues like smoking and insurance coverage. There’s no way to even estimate how many people are walking the planet right now blissfully unaware that the American Cancer Society is partly responsible for saving their lives.

This is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Three and a half years ago, after turning 50, I had a colonoscopy, as recommended by ACS guidelines and my doctor. My insurance paid for the procedure, without even looking at my deductible. The good news is that the doctor didn’t discover any cancer. The even better news is that the doctor removed a benign polyp from my colon – and when it comes to colon cancer, benign polyps sometimes turn into cancerous polyps. So that colonoscopy could, just possibly, have saved my life. I’ll never know. And the American Cancer Society played a big part in promoting colonoscopies and making them more readily available to more people.

It’s hard to get people to wrap their minds around such “what if” scenarios. Some people just see dollars going out of town, and don’t realize that the impact of those dollars is all around them – and maybe looking back at them in the mirror.

Relay For Life – the actual event, as well as the year-round activity which feeds into it – is a thing of joy. It’s a time to, as the slogan goes, “Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back.” It’s something that means a lot to me. Relay events used to always run overnight, to symbolize the darkness and struggle with which cancer patients must contend. But a rule change a few years ago has allowed many communities to cut back the length of their Relay events by eliminating the overnight schedule. But I love the overnight schedule, which we’ve held onto in Bedford County for another year. I love being at the event at 3 in the morning, feeling like I’m part of something special, something larger than myself.

Please consider doing one of the following:

  • Join or start a Relay team. If you’re reading this from outside Bedford County, you can find your community’s Relay event here. If you’re here in Bedford County, here’s our local event.
  • At the very least, please attend your local Relay event. It’s not, repeat NOT, just for the registered team members. Teams will have concession stands set up and will be selling lots of tasty food, merchandise, carnival games, and so on. There will be special ceremonies and activities, such as a survivor lap to honor cancer survivors and a luminaria ceremony to remember those we’ve lost and honor those who are still fighting. If you’ve never attended a luminaria ceremony, you will have to trust me when I tell you it will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
  • Or, you can donate online to support someone who is participating in Relay.

Do it for my mom, if you knew her. Or do it for any of the people you know who are fighting cancer, or for someone you remember who was lost to cancer.

Mightier (and more annoying) than the sword

My second group of kids this morning at Regan Aymett‘s class at Learning Way Elementary was a little bit of a problem today during my Raise Your Hand Tennessee volunteer hour. They were all boys. We were doing the first half of an activity, with no writing required, but they all had pens, and one of them had a four-color pen — the type that has four different little sliding levers, each of which causes a different color of ballpoint pen to pop out.
The boys were fighting over the pen. I took up all the pens and set them in a basket on the table, but one of the boys kept trying to grab the pen from the basket when I wasn’t looking. I finally took all the pens and carried them over to Ms. Aymett’s desk for safekeeping. I was trying to walk a line between sounding firm and yet not sounding annoyed, like they were getting to me.
In truth, they were getting to me.
Meanwhile, I am wearing a shirt today that is relatively snug-fitting, and when I am sitting in a relatively small chair, leaning forward to indicate my interest in what the kids are saying, my belly pushes out and it gaps up a bit. At one point, the boys were going on about how they could see my belly. I tried to straighten up and readjust the shirt, and then one of them talked about how bushy and funny-looking my eyebrows were. I tried to say something about it being rude to talk about someone’s appearance, but the boys weren’t having it.
Later, I had to go back and get the pens so that we could start on the second half of the activity. At the end of the session, as Regan cheerfully intoned “Class, class!”, one of the boys was removing the cap from a felt-tip marker. It stuck or something, so that when he pulled it off his arm went back too far and he poked the boy next to him in the eye.
I hope that I do an OK job as a volunteer for an hour a week, but it sure makes me appreciative of the people like Regan who deal with this all day, every day.

hello larry

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my regular weekly volunteer hour at Learning Way Elementary. Unfortunately, a combination of Monday holidays, weather and a doctor’s appointment made my participation spotty during January and the first half of February, but I’m back on track now.

As I posted to Facebook last week, there’s a new automated security check system at Bedford County schools. When you arrive at school as a visitor, you give them your driver’s license, and they scan it and run an immediate background check. The system then prints out a visitor name badge sticker personalized with your name and driver’s license photo. Once the license has been scanned the first time, you’re in the system and all they have to do is look you up on your next visit.

Of course, I had a background check back when I first signed up for Raise Your Hand Tennessee, the volunteer program through which I work at Learning Way. But this new system scans every visitor.

Unfortunately, there seem to be a few quirks. Last week, my name badge got printed out as “L Carney,” and when the receptionist looked me up this week, she told me that there was no way to change it. So I’ll be “L Carney” from this point forward.

The first group of kids I worked with this morning helpfully suggested the name “Larry” to go with my new first initial.

Someone on Facebook posed a good question last week – if the system has gotten my name wrong, does that also mean the background check isn’t reliable?

I was disappointed to find out that today was “Hat Day” at Learning Way. Had I known, I’d have worn the floppy hat, made of baobab tree fibers, that I brought back from one of my Kenya trips.

Another new development since I blogged last is that Regan Aymett, the teacher in whose classroom I work, managed to get donations to buy rubber fitness balls for all of her students to sit on. I sit in a regular chair, but the kids are all on rubber balls – not unlike the one that Leo Laporte sits on for some of his podcasts on the TWiT network.

Leo, of course, has not always had good success sitting on his ball, as you can see in these clips:

The purpose of the balls is to help keep the kids active even as they’re seated and working on classwork. The kids seem to have adapted well to them.

Birthday greetings

I’d like to wish my little sister, Elecia, a happy birthday. As I noted in this blog post 10 years ago, you have to use discretion in this sort of thing, and it would be rude of me to talk about a lady’s age. So I’ll move along to other topics.

By the way, I certainly hope you enjoyed Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, along with viewers in all 50 states and many foreign countries. I’ve been watching the game for years, of course, ever since Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” was a hit on the radio. It was a good close game, and each team had a 50/50 chance of winning. They literally had a 50/50 chance of winning the coin toss — even though that was a specially-made commemorative coin and not a simple 50-cent piece.

I’m glad GoDaddy didn’t have a Super Bowl ad this year. Their ads are so salacious, it’s almost like watching “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

I’m sure that some people weren’t into the game, of course. Maybe some of them were watching the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy “50 First Dates.”

Now, of course, there will be months without football. People will have to satisfy themselves with other programming — like the police drama “Hawaii Five-O.”

But, getting back to my sister, I want to say how much I love her. She’s always been there for me. She’s a hard-working 9-1-1 dispatcher. She’s a mother of three wonderful children, and those kids were always her priority through thick and thin. She’s caring and big-hearted and thinks of everyone else first. I hope she has a very, very happy birthday, however old she is — and I can’t think of the specific number at the moment, but I’m sure it will come to me eventually.

warmth in wrap-up

All of the moms of First United Methodist Church – Shelbyville teased me about whether or not I was ready to be a chaperone at Warmth In Winter, and carried on like I was making some great sacrifice by attending.

But I expected going in that I’d have a good time – and I did. It was a blessing, in a very real sense.

It’s a moving thing to see young people in the throes of some of their first religious experiences. Bishop Bill McAlilly, who preached this morning, recalled a church camp experience at which James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” was played, and I had to laugh – because one of the strongest memories of my own junior high church camp experiences has to do with Taylor’s “Shower The People.” “That’s not a church song,” I thought to my seventh grade self. “That’s a song from the radio. Are they allowed to do that?”

That camp experience is still potent in my memory, four decades later, and I always list it as a key part of my spiritual journey whenever I’m asked to lay out my spiritual timeline at some retreat or mission trip training event.

That’s where these kids were this weekend. How remarkable for them to get to go and be at a nice hotel with three thousand of their peers, and see a Christian band play with rock-concert-style staging — video screens, lighting and what have you.

The teens from Shelbyville First are a great group, and they really got out of this experience what you’d hope they would get out of it.

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We know that one peak experience doesn’t guarantee a life of faith. Nothing guarantees a life of faith; faith has to be renewed on an hourly basis. In fact, during a breakout session on Saturday I and the other adults from First UMC heard some disheartening statistics about how many children who actively participate in their church youth groups lose their connection to the church just as soon as they get to college.

Bellarive, which was the worship band for this weekend’s event, has a song lyric that goes “You will never fade away / Your love is here to stay,” and while God’s love is faithful we are not always faithful to God.

That’s a challenge and an admonition to all of us in the church, but it does nothing to diminish the value of, or the need for, events like Warmth In Winter, or the week-in, week-out youth activities in a local church. We do not know whose heart might have been turned this weekend. Decades from now, some great Christian leader – maybe a member of the clergy, maybe a layperson whose faith has been reflected in a life well-lived – may look back to that weekend in 2016 when she stood up in front of the stage in the mosh pit, bouncing up and down to the music of Bellarive and swapping warm fuzzies with strangers from other churches.

In case you’ve missed my previous posts, Warmth In Winter, which started in 1982, is an annual youth weekend held by the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. (Despite the name, the “Tennessee” conference is made up of Middle Tennessee.) It’s been held for the past several years at the Embassy Suites hotel and convention center in Murfreesboro, but it attracts thousands of teenagers and has outgrown even that facility. This year, for example, the Embassy Suites was sold out and there were church groups staying at several other hotels in the Medical Center Parkway area, plus some churches that just commuted. The Saturday morning programming had to be done in shifts – while the groups staying at the Embassy Suites were in breakout workshops, the groups staying off-site were in the main room for worship, and vice versa. Next year, Warmth In Winter will be held at Gaylord Opryland.

My nephew T.J. Carney was a member of one of the “design teams” that put on the event this year, and he appeared on stage a couple of times, in a skit and as a “stick figure dancer” (you had to be there). I could not be prouder. T.J.’s younger brother James also got to attend the event; they are both from Bell Buckle UMC.

So it was tremendously moving to see all the kids enjoying this experience and hope that it will have an impact on them down the road.

But I also enjoyed the programming directly. When you’re talking to teenagers, you don’t talk to them about nuances of theology, or socio-political implications, or textual criticism. Duffy Robbins, the keynote speaker for the event, had a three-point slogan upon which he based all three of his sermons: “God has a plan … Man has a problem … The choice is up to you.” Simple, clean and direct. Every now and then, even we adults need a message that cuts to the essentials and touches the heart.

Duffy Robbins, by the way, was terrific all around, with a sense of humor that appealed to everyone in the room. I found this on YouTube from 2014, but he did exactly the same routine this weekend:

He had a way of taking this simple story and making it come to life. A story about teaching his teenage daughter how to drive became a lesson on the Incarnation, and the need for God to be in the seat next to us. Just perfect.

The other major part of the program was illusionist Jared Hall:

I knew going in that I’d enjoy the program. I had seen enough slide shows from previous Warmth In Winter trips to have a basic sense of what the event was about. But as I posted Friday night, I wasn’t quite sure of my own role. I wasn’t rooming with the kids – that’s prohibited by United Methodist “safe sanctuaries” policies due to the risk. Our church’s director of children and youth, the wonderful Alden Procopio, does a great job with the kids, and so it’s not like I was needed to hand out stern looks. (The kids were great all weekend, really.) This was a suite hotel, and as the only adult male in the First UMC group I had a suite all to myself. I felt almost guilty for being there and enjoying the program.

After I wrote those words Friday night, a couple of things happened Saturday that made me feel better. We had a block of free time, and went to a nearby shopping area with a lot of food options. We gave the kids the freedom to go where they liked. Alden and the Three Moms – Vickie Hull, Tanya Lane and Rachel Cunningham – went with a few of the teens to a barbecue restaurant, but I tagged along with another group that went to Panda Express. Just being there, me and the teens hanging out, made me feel a little more like I was actually a chaperone and not just a tag-along. I sat with most of the same kids that night at the Murfreesboro District pizza party:

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I also found out that I had to be there. The event’s policy required that if there were male campers, there had to be a male adult from that church (and, I assume, vice versa). If I hadn’t been there, Grayson and Kenny and Sam might not have been able to be there.

I bought myself a T-shirt on Saturday, but I joked about not buying another souvenir I really wanted. At a layspeaking class I took last November, I was amused at the John Wesley bobblehead doll brought along by the teacher. They had those bobbleheads at the Cokesbury table at Warmth In Winter this weekend, but I decided they were too expensive.

Today, on our way home, we all stopped for lunch at Toot’s South. After we’d eaten, as we were trying to consolidate the plates a bit, all of a sudden the four grownups with whom I was sitting started looking at me and handed me a white paper bag and an envelope.

The bag, as you’ve no-doubt guessed, contained this:

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The envelope was even better – a card signed by the kids and the other adults thanking me for being there.

By the way, there’s a bad pollen problem inside Toot’s this time of year.